Summary and book reviews of The Absolutist by John Boyne

The Absolutist

A Novel

By John Boyne

The Absolutist
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  • Paperback: Jul 2012,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Book Summary

It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will - from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain.

The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep readers on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and will stay with them long after they've turned the last page.

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Excerpt
The Absolutist

I DON'T SPEAK TO Will Bancroft until our second day at Aldershot Military Barracks but I notice him on our first. We arrive in the late afternoon of the last day of April, some forty of us, a group of untidy boys, loud-mouthed and vulgar, stinking of sweat and bogus heroism. Those who already know each other sit together on the train, talking incessantly, afraid of silence, each voice competing to drown out the next. Those who are strangers hide in window seats, their heads pressed against the glass, feigning sleep or staring out as the scenery rushes past. Some make nervous conversation about the things they have left behind, their families, the sweethearts they will miss, but no one discusses the war. We might be on a day trip for all the nerves we dare show.

We stand around in groups as the train empties and I find myself next to a boy of about nineteen who glances around irritably, taking me in and dismissing me again with a single look. He ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When Tristan first enters the Cantwell Inn, Mrs. Cantwell's son, David, presents the question of morality and describes the incident that happens in room four as "a personal indiscretion". Which characters does Boyne present as judges of morality in The Absolutist? How does Tristan's complete avoidance of their judgments define his character both negatively and positively?


  2. In solitary confinement, Will makes it clear to Tristan what he dislikes about him and what makes them different. Tristan's silent compliance with the injustice of the military system and his insistence that their intimate moments hold some greater meaning come to repulse Will. Yet when Will removes his blindfold, his reaction suggests a kind of heartbreak. How do...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

...[W]hile some readers may find the material unsympathetic, the author raises worthy questions, including the consequences of holding fast to unchangeable events. Boyne's rendering of Marian Bancroft... also helps invigorate the material. Conflicted, temperamental, charming, forgetful, loyal to her brother's memory, and unforgiving, she is complex where others seem defined by a handful of traits. Her story elevates the plot as Sadler must consider the effects of facing the family of someone he has harmed. Readers who are intrigued by the period and by the author's previous award-winning novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, will appreciate this latest exploration of psychological trauma on the Western Front.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

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Media Reviews
The Bookseller

Powerful, poignant and beautifully written. This will become a classic war novel.

The Daily Beast

What is most memorable here is the timelessly doomed relationship between Tristan and Will, marked by tenderness and confusion and cruelty in the face of their own internalized repression, as British as it is of its time. This is a wonderfully crafted tragedy that will stay with the reader for days.

Publishers Weekly

A relentlessly tragic yet beautifully crafted novel.

Kirkus Reviews

Some of the key moments of the book - notably an encounter with a frightened German soldier - are very effective.

Library Journal

A thought-provoking and surprising page-turner that for some readers may recall Ian McEwan's Atonement.

Literary Review (UK)

[In] Boyne's fiction, there's a sense that people are fundamentally the sum of their traumas... Boyne's narrative grip is strong.

The Irish Times

Political, personal, powerful... a fiercely interrogative novel that asks not just what it means to be a man but also what it means to be a human being in the extreme circumstances of war.

Author Blurb Colum McCann
John Boyne brings a completely fresh eye to the most important stories. He is one of the great craftsmen in contemporary literature.

Author Blurb Colm Toibin
A wonderful, sad, tender book that is going to have an enormous impact on everyone who reads it.

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Norwich, England

Norwich, England In John Boyne's The Absolutist, twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich, England to deliver a package of letters to Will Bancroft's sister. Norwich, a city located along the River Wensum in eastern England, is the county seat of Norfolk and was once one of the largest, most populated towns in England, second only to London in prosperity.

Norfolk (literally meaning North people), shares the bulge on the east of England, known as East Anglia with it's southern neighbor - Suffolk (South people). The region is known as East Anglia after the Angles, a Germanic group who settled the area by the 5th century. The etymology of Norwich is essentially north-wich - wich being the Anglo-Saxon designation for a ...

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